England

Nine arrests in 'biggest ever' sex trafficking raids

Nine people have been arrested after the UK Border Agency launched its biggest ever operation against a suspected sex trafficking ring.

More than 150 police and border agency officers staged raids in Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, London and Surrey.

A total of 13 raids took place at homes and suspected brothels.

The alleged ringleader was among those detained.

The raids, the culmination of a year-long investigation, were held in Cambridge, Chessington, Ely, Farnborough, Hemel Hempstead, High Wycombe, Langley, Luton, Maidenhead, Sunbury, Watford and Westcliff-on-Sea.

Three men aged 52, 38 and 34 and a woman aged 35, were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to control prostitution for gain, trafficking and money laundering offences.

In addition four men and a woman, all believed to be Chinese nationals, were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the brothel's management.

Three people, all Chinese nationals, were also detained over immigration offences.

'Mr Bigs'

Women who were believed to have been working at brothels were taken to a specialist assessment centre.

A UK Border Agency (UKBA) spokesman said the men and women involved were mostly from south-east Asia and China.

Sam Bullimore, assistant director of UKBA, said the focus of the investigation was not only to close down brothels but to find the "Mr Bigs" behind the gangs.

Image caption Women who were believed to have been working at brothels were taken to a specialist centre

He added the location of the raids demonstrated how sexual exploitation is taking place in the centre of communities.

"It's often hidden but the real impact is that people are brought from foreign countries - vulnerable women - who are trafficked," Mr Bullimore said.

"They don't want to do this and they are being involved in sexual exploitation.

"It undermines communities. It's often hidden but it's something that you don't want on your street and something that we don't want in the UK, and that is why we are determined to tackle it."

Conservative Immigration Minister Damian Green said the crackdown would continue over the coming months.

"As today's raids show, we are working with the police and other law enforcement agencies to tackle the organised criminals who abuse the immigration system.

"This summer we are targeting our efforts on breaking up the organised gangs who trade in human beings and are behind visa scams.

"The message is clear - the UK is no longer a safe haven for immigration offenders and human traffickers."

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